Writers are like snowflakes (part 4)

In my forum lurking I’ve seen any number of questions about how long someone’s scenes should be or how long their chapters should be or how many scenes should be in a chapter.  And once again, I find myself wanting to answer: do what works for you and your writing.  There is no magic formula.

And, if you look around a bit you’ll also see that chapter lengths and scene breaks can vary depending on the pacing of the novel or the effect the author is trying to create.  So, even within one novel, this will vary.

Asking someone how long your chapters should be is like asking someone what you should eat.  How should they know?  Are you eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner?  Do you have allergies?  What foods do you like to eat?  What foods do you hate?  Where are you from?  (Breakfast in Asia is very different from breakfast in Mexico is very different from breakfast in the Southern U.S.)

And once again, I come back to the underlying theme of these posts, which is that you must have faith in your own ability to write.  Sure, study others (Read), practice different approaches (Write), analyze your work and that of others (Think), but at the end of the day you have to find what works for you.  No one else can do that for you.

I will say that I’m currently reading a well-written book that is driving me nuts because of chapter and scene length.  I like to read for fifteen minutes or so before bed, but this book has such long chapters with no scene breaks that I find I have to stop mid-scene, which annoys me.

So, just out of curiosity, I decided to pull down four books I recently read and enjoyed and compare them to this book:

Book which will not be named by author who will not be named:

Chapter 1: 26 pages, no scene breaks (1st person)
Chapter 10: 22 pages, no scene breaks (1st person)

Seer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier:

Prologue: 2 pages, first person
Chapter 1: 29 pages, four scenes, (first person, different from Prologue)
Chapter 10: 42 pages, ten scenes (first person, two different individuals with names at the top of their respective scenes)

Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey:

Chapter 1: 19 pages, one scene (3rd person limited)
Chapter 10: 29 pages, four scenes (3rd person limited, same main character as Ch 1)

The Hundred Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin:

Chapter 1: 11 pages, 8 scenes* (first person)
Chapter 10: 15 pages, 11 scenes* (first person, same as Ch 1)

The Apostle by Brad Thor:

Chapter 1: 5 pages, 1 scene (third person limited)
Chapter 10: 14 pages, 1 scene (third person limited, different from Chapter 1)

The comparison is a little misleading, because the book that’s driving me nuts also has very small type and is a bit wider than the other books, so I suspect there’s more text per page in this book than in the others. (In case you didn’t already know this, not all pages of novels are created equal.  Think font, spacing, margins, etc.)  I also expected Brad Thor’s chapters to be shorter because it’s a different type of book.  (Which reiterates the point that the right chapter length will vary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.)

Anyway.  I’m not in the habit of analyzing others’ writing like that, so it was kind of fun to do.  But bottom line is: do what works for you.  And if you aren’t sure what works for you then you probably need to Read, Write, or Think more.

(Oh, and don’t trust me on the third person limited.  Pretty sure they were, but I could be wrong.)

* For N.K. Jemisin these are more thought breaks than scene breaks

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
This entry was posted in General Musings, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.